I’ve spent the last few months dismayed by how Republican presidential aspirants seem disinterested in earning the 2024 nomination. So I figured I would try a column about it.
Donald Trump captured the presidency with an inside straight in 2016. In the years since, losing has been the norm. Republicans lost the House under his watch in 2018, the White House two years later, blew the Senate twice thanks to Trump-endorsed candidates, and Democrats took control of many governors’ mansions. Also impeached twice, Trump’s been indicted by a grand jury and found liable for sexual abuse and defamation. He remains in legal jeopardy, with prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., considering other charges.
He has the highest unfavorable rating of anyone and no interest in changing his public image. Yet Trump is the leader for the party nomination. Some mutter that the primary and general contests are a long way off, but that’s not so; nearly all GOP frontrunners win the nomination.
Why is Trump doing well? His electoral and endorsement record is underwhelming, to say the least. He’s poison to suburban women, young people, and moderates. His intransigence on election conspiracies is appalling. Many voters who dislike Joe Biden would still crawl over broken glass to vote against Trump again.
Moreover, where are attacks from moribund Republican opponents? They don’t exist. Trump is rolling toward the GOP nomination, sans resistance.
The frontrunner usually comes under intense attack from rivals. Think Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012, Jeb Bush in 2016, or Biden in 2020. Republican primaries since 2008, in particular, have been especially spirited.
Rivals make the case why the leading candidate should not represent their party in the next election — with policy differences or concerns about the candidate’s character. And they are surely unafraid to deem the frontrunner incompetent or unelectable. Trump has more baggage than anyone.
After Trump’s May. 10 town hall, only former Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the verdict in the rape and defamation case “should be treated with seriousness and is another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump.”
Hugh Hewitt immediately asked Nikki Haley, the only woman in the race, about Trump’s recent misogyny. The former ambassador deflected, “I’m not going to get into that… it’s not my case, it’s his case.”
Then how will you defeat Trump? I guess Haley, who would probably be the strongest general election option, prefers to remain in single digits.
Trump’s closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will announce his bid in the coming days, has deployed a strategy to sound as inane as Trump on international affairs while avoiding a direct clash.
Maybe that reluctance will change when DeSantis makes his candidacy official because his current approach is failing.
Meanwhile, Trump’s positions on economic matters, foreign policy, and abortion have moved left, while his personal attacks on DeSantis have gone unanswered, and his lead over the Florida topper has grown.
Since we’re accustomed to Republicans appeasing the former president, it surprised us when Sen. Todd Young boldly said that he won’t support Trump and, when pressed for a reason, said, “Where do I begin?”
It’s hard to imagine a challenger musing the same.
It’s plausible that a Republican could significantly consolidate suburban women and white-collar GOP voters if the field narrows to two candidates. First, though, that candidate needs to stop genuflecting and explain why he or she should be the nominee instead of Trump.
Democrats undoubtedly realize Biden’s lone chance for a second term is remobilizing the colossal anti-Trump coalition that’s come out every post-2016 cycle.
The primary may be a breeze for Trump, but the general will be arduous. Team Biden will draw contrasts, and demagoguery will be deployed. If Republican challengers don’t explain why Trump should be denied the presidency, Democrats surely will.
Ari Kaufman is a correspondent for several U.S. newspapers and magazines from Minnesota and Ohio to Tennessee and Virginia. He taught school and served as a military historian before beginning his journalism career. He is the author of three books and a frequent guest on radio programs and contributes to Israel National News and here at The Lid.